Saturday, August 29, 2009

Change and Responsibility

Donald Miller, in Through Painted Deserts, writes "I could not have know then that everybody, every person, has to leave, has to change like seasons; they have to or they die. The seasons remind me that I must keep changing, and I want to change because it is God's way."

"I want to keep walking away from the person I was a moment ago, because a mind was made to figure things out, not to read the same page recurrently. Only the good stories have the characters different at the end than they were at the beginning."

"It might be time for you to go. It might be time to change, to shine out. I want to repeat one word for you: Leave."

I have to change or I will die. The temptation to slip into mediocrity, or to be OK with the mundane, or to be satisfied with average... is a strong one. But I must resist. I must continue to change, and change I will.

We seem to construct responsibilities, whether they are self-imposed, culture imposed, legitimate, or superficial. We then go on to convince ourselves that it is what life is about. But we should only feel responsible to responsibilities when they are fulfilling their responsibility.

School exists to prepare us to live a meaningful life, but what if leaving school fulfilled that in a greater way?

Work exists to give us a way to contribute to society and honor God, but what if leaving our career fulfilled that in a greater way?

Friendship exists to model the love of Christ and for ministry, but what if leaving those friends allows us to model His love and do ministry in a greater way?

Marriage exists to assist us in the ministry of Christ and model God's love relationship here, but what if staying single allows us to do it better for the time being?

Have we merely slipped into doing school, work, friendships, marriage, family and all other things in life simply because it is what we are "supposed to do"? I don't like doing what I am "supposed to do". Or maybe I should put it this way: I question whether or not all of this stuff, and by stuff I mean what our culture and even Christian culture expects us to do to be a responsible person, is what I am really "supposed to do". Let's be willing to be radical for the Gospel; not radical for radicals sake, but because we are called to follow a homeless, poor, rejected, unpredictable, controversial, and "unresponsible" man named Jesus.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sin City... Hope for Redemption?

Being in Las Vegas puts me through a lot of emotions and thoughts. I think my initial response is awe at the lights and extravagance of everything. But then I remember where all this money came from, and where all this money could have gone. I think about how if people decided to give their money to poor people who are starving around the world instead of giving into the excitement and rush of thinking they just might beat the odds and win more of this little green paper thing that seems to control us, the world would be a much better place.

I can't imagine what Christ must think of Las Vegas. I know what I think though: mission field. Many people seem to feel like Las Vegas is scary because of all the sin, maybe that they will be guilty by association if they go. I almost felt a bit ashamed telling Christian friends that I was going to Las Vegas, as if going there automatically means you are going to sin, or are less of a Christian because of it. But seriously though, this is where Christians need to be. Maybe I will end up there.

It's crazy, but I don't feel more tempted to sin in Las Vegas. There were half naked girls all over the place, and I am the first guy to admit that I still struggle with lust, but for some reason rather than being tempted to lust I began to get teary eyed (and I am even now as I write) to the point of sobbing for these two women who were up on a stage right in the middle of a casino in their underwear dancing. Do they have any hope? Do they know about the Jesus who loves them and thinks they are beautiful because He made them, not because of their body type, breast size, or face? Has anyone told them that even though it might be harder financially to not do what they are doing, Jesus would protect them, care for them, and save them freely without them needing to strive for it or compromise?

Who is telling the people in Vegas this?? There are some great ministries in Vegas I am sure, and I got to hear about a couple, but man my heart was breaking for them much like it does for kids starving in Africa, India, and other places around the world. God has been so gracious to me in giving me more and more of a heart for people who are starving and thirsty physically around the world, but do I not have the same compassion for those doing the same spiritually? And shouldn't I have more compassion for them, as they are in threat of eternal death more so than just physical?

I think also I need to approach my daily life more like Vegas. Being in Sin City makes it easy for me to remember, "this is not OK... this place is not my home... it is not OK to fit in here and be like everyone else... I need to watch myself so that I'm not led into sin" and the such. It is easy for me when we stopped to see a play outside and all of the girls were half naked (and the play made absolutely no sense.... it was just to show half naked girls) to guard my eyes and look away and not lust. The same is true for money: it is easy in Vegas to remember that greed destroys your heart, and how selfish and sickening materialism is.

But why is it so hard to keep my thoughts pure when I am other places? Why doesn't my heart break as much for the women that I see daily on the street? Why am I not as sickened by materialism when I am in a place that only seems to not be as extravagent by comparison? Why do I so easily forget the mission that I am on when I am in a place more comfortable and apparently less evil than Vegas?

I want to live a life of mission focused on Christ and the Kingdom of God. Lord help me live that out here in Simi Valley.

The Grand Canyon

After getting stuck behind a big oversized truck who was going about 25 miles per hour on a single lane road with a speed limit of 70 for about 45 minutes, the driver finally thought it was time to pull over to the shoulder to allow the 20-30 cars waiting behind him to pass. A few miles later we stopped to get a little lunch, but took it on the road with us because we were pressing for time to get to the Grand Canyon before the sun went down. After about 10 minutes or so at Burger King I pulled out back onto our route, and sitting in front of me is the same oversized truck going 25 miles an hour.

Yet the Lord was so gracious in getting us there before the sun went down so that we could see this massive, beautiful hole in the ground. You wouldn't think that a big empty spot could be so majestic or attention drawing, but it deserves all of the hype.

After I had about 7 anxiety attacks from kids playing really close to the edge, thinking they were cool while almost dying, our group hung out well past most people leaving the lookout we were at to watch the light slowly die to our left over the canyon wall and watch the stars begin to light up. Gradually the big hole in the ground in front of us became a fog of darkness, seemingly wanting to convince me that it was no longer there, that there wasn't a drop just a few steps in front of me that went straight down hundreds of feet. Up above, the stars had now filled the sky and created an ambiance that is hard to match. It's crazy to think that God could create the world so that a little river could create a huge hole in the ground and also put all of these massive balls of fire in the sky, seemingly just to dazzle us.

I made it a point to sleep outside that night, almost as if I could cuddle with the stars or find some sort of peace from God through it. Whenever I sleep under the stars I think I'm going to stay up for hours watching them, but then my eyelids and the promise of sleep start calling my name and its off to unconsciousness. For some reason I thought it'd be a good idea to sleep on top of my car. Too bad my back was bent backwards along the curve of my hood, so about an hour or two into my sleep I arose to lay down on the ground with my sleeping bag.

In the morning we arose while the sky was still full of stars to try to catch the sunrise over the canyon. We went out to a new lookout and watched as the sky slowly began to brighten just in front of us, then the sun starting poking its head out over a elevated rock on the other side. As a group all of our cameras came out to pose with the sight and marvle. I almost feel like in some ways I was too concerned with capturing the sight on a camera than I was with really soaking in the sight personally. It can be so easy to want to share an experience with people that you don't even experience it yourself.

On to Vegas.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

In Grand Junction, Colorado

So we had planned on leaving this morning at 6:45am, but there was a specific gender, not male, that was late and we finally left around 7:30. We headed up to Rocky Mountain National Park first thing. I tell you, I have never seen anything like this before in my life. I'm not used to seeing things so big and grand in Ohio or anywhere else in the East.

We drove all the way up to 12,000 feet in the air and pulled over to this one spot on the route. We had to climb just a few hundred feet up to find the peak of the mountain we were on, but I tell you, that hike was exhausting! It left many of us feelin a bit dizzy and sick because of the atmosphere. I actually got a bit cranky. But it was so worth it as we were able to see mountains all the way around us for miles and miles. It was quite the sight.

After several hours in the Rockies, we headed back down and went along I-70. The thing is, in Colorado, the sights are just as beautiful along the highway as they are in the parks. We drove through an amazing canyon, drove alongside the Colorado River, saw all types of different looking mountains, saw a natural hot spring, and witnessed a sunset that lit up an entire mountain top.

The best part about the trip thus far though is by far the people on the trip. We've had some great discussions and really grown together already. We had a little argument in the car and then discussed it for a couple hours and learned a ton about each other. Being in Christian community and sharing in this experience together is a blessing.

Tomorrow we are waking up really early to head out to the Grand Canyon. We hope to get there before sunset and spend the night there at a campground. We will be going through some of Utah and then through desert in Arizona. Pray for our cars to keep going strong!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

In Denver (not in Kansas anymore)

So we spent about 10 hours on the road today going through Kansas and some of Colorado on our way to Denver. Kansas is so flat that you can see for miles and miles off of the highway. We drove along this road amongst an ocean of green going as far as the eye could see. Kansas is pretty bare of large attractions and industrialized areas, but it was really cool in a different sort of way.

Speaking of cool, about 40 miles or so out of Denver we began to be able to see the mountains in the distance through the misty clouds and the sun directly above. Cat exclaimed, "are those the mountains there?!" It was so beautiful that it was hard to believe. The mountains towered over the city of Denver and served as a picturesque background to it. They stretched in length for what seemed like forever, and contain a beauty that I have been unexposed to before.

We are waking up early in the morning tomorrow (6:15am) to get on the road and explore the rest of this amazing state! I will hopefully be able to write on that soon. Talk to ya then!

In Kansas

I am sitting in a gas station with WiFi in Salena, Kansas right now. It is seven of us on the trip: Luke Marzano, Melissa Toomey, Kari Dye, Cat Van Wagner, Autumn Partlow, Lainey Hart, and myself. We left at 7:00am yesterday and didn't arrive at the hotel just short of Kansas City until around 11:30pm (which would have been 12:30am without the time change). So it was quite a long day on the road, but we broke it up with a lot of different stops. It's so crazy to think we have driven over 1,000 miles already across the country. I've never been this far west. Luke is shooting some video and different people are taking pictures, so those should be coming soon on here.

So as I am half way across the country and in the middle of nowhere in Kansas, it is really setting in that I am moving to California now. It is quite a big change, but I'm really pumped!

We are staying at my aunt and uncle's house in Denver tonight. Tomorrow we are going to see Rocky Mountain National Park, Hanging Lake, and the Colorado National Monument. We'll be camping out there. Then on Friday we are going to the Grand Canyon and will camp out there. Saturday it is on to Las Vegas. On Sunday we will finally land in Simi Valley, Lord willing.

I'll try to update this as we go. Later!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

My Life Be Like...

This whole past week I have been able to say my goodbyes to all of my friends in Marietta, OH. On Monday (27th) night some of my friends threw me a little surprise going away party. During much of the week I was able to spend time with people close to me whether it was in a hot tub, at a campfire, at dinner, getting ice cream, or whatever it might be. Time well spent. My last night in Marietta, Friday, was spent with youth members, college students, and other friends of mine at a sleepover in the church. We played games, had some time in the word, had a little departing service, and said our goodbyes as I drove off with my car packed.

Now it is on to the next adventure. Maine:

My brothers, Eric and Stephen, and I took off for some family vacation time in Maine early Monday morning. We arrived at our gate with about an hour to spare and sat down on the little black chairs that are so common to airports. I cracked open Donald Miller's book "Through Painted Deserts" and took my place reading where I had left off, about 2/3 of the way done. A couple of pages in, I heard over the loudspeaker: "For all passengers traveling on the 11:15am flight to Portland, ME, we have overbooked this flight and are asking for three of you to change your travel plans to accomodate. We are offering you a $400 voucher for future airfare with Continental airlines."

I glanced around a bit to size up the competition and then shot up out of my seat and asked the man what the itinerary would look like for these three people. He told me that they would take a flight at 3:30pm to Boston and then take a cab to Portland, with all of the expenses being paid for. After a short huddle with my brothers and a quick phone conversation with our mother, we told the man that we'd do it. $1,200 in airfare ain't too shabby for arriving in Maine 7 hours later than expected. Another lady at the desk gave us vouchers for airfare, food, and the cabs we'd need to take.

$8 for lunch isn't all that much in an aiport. The three of us found a spot though, got our food, and sat down to eat. My younger brother, Eric, told me that he has been reading through his Bible everyday for the last several months and has already made it to 2 Kings. Talking about the Bible and different questions he had sparked a conversation about faith between the three of us that must have lasted an hour or so.

3:30 rolled around rather quickly and we took our places in our first class seats that we were given as a part of the deal. I don't really understand the whole first class thing. You spend possibly hundreds of dollars so that you can have a little leg room for a couple hours and get an extra pop. I think it has a lot more to do with status. See the thing is that first class people go on the plane first (how this is a luxury doesn't make sense to me), so maybe some people get a kick out of having everyone walking back to coach seeing them in first class and thinking that they have a better life than them. I honestly felt like a jerk as the stewardess was handing me a coke (first class people get a drink to begin the flight) and people were walking past to the back of the plane.

Well we landed in Boston and then had to get a taxi. Continental was shelling out $360 for this drive to Portland. Our cab driver was a black man who had permed hair that went down to his neck. He casually mentioned that our voucher did not cover the gratuity. After texting my mom to see how much you tip a cab driver, I ended up giving this guy $40. I guess it is a small price to pay for the $400 voucher that I will be using to fly back from California. We got dropped off in Portland to pick up my brother's suitcase, and then grabbed another free (aside from tip again) cab to take us to our house. This driver was actually from Kenya, Africa. He and another guy were speaking Samali to each other before we got in the car, and he told me that he came here in 2004. There are like 3 black people in Maine, so it was cool to see that they at least doubled that a few years back. After it became apparent that he didn't understand me that well after my first few questions, I went back to reading as I was not feeling up to trying to force the conversation. He was a really nice guy though and we tipped him a little extra.

So we finally arrived in Maine around 8:30 last night. My brother Eric and I went kayaking together around the lake today. We talked about politics, careers, money, and faith. I told him how I thought living like this doesn't make any sense in light of people dying around the world. I explained how I struggle a lot with being surrounded by wealth, and how if I don't go with it some I will look like a jerk. The hardest part is that I know I like it. Not all of it. I definitly don't like the isolation, or the apparent death/coldness that comes with it, or the arrogance, or the lack of love. Yet still there are parts I like, and I don't like that I like it.

Anyway, leaving for Cali in one week exactly.